3-5 May 2021
Europe/Vienna timezone

Thematic Fields

Open Science: Rethinking the Science and Society Relationship

Transparency of procedures, accessibility, and critical contestation of results lie at the heart of scientific knowledge production. However, scientific practices have often been found to fall short of these ideals. The metaphor of the ivory tower describes science as self-centred, inaccessible and not responding to social needs.

Investigating practices of knowledge production has a long history in social studies of science. At first, STS scholars challenged traditional scientific epistemologies and began to scrutinise social dynamics of scientific truth making in the laboratory. Controversial scientific practices, such as recombinant DNA technologies, raised questions of trust in and credibility of science, leading scholars to question what makes scientific knowledge socially robust. As a response to these scientific controversies, many European countries took active steps to advance policy-making. “Inclusive governance” has become an important goal for the European Commission since the early 2000s. As ELSA research in the context of genomics explored new approaches in public-policy, ideas regarding responsible research and innovation (RRI) began to materialize in fields such as nanotechnology. Aiming at “inclusive governance”, RRI in general and Open Science in particular promote the engagement of civil society in various forms of knowledge production with the aim of creating a wider and more inclusive process of research and innovation, as well as political decision-making. Open Science holds the promise to respond to these challenges and enhance science and society relationships by making science more open and accountable to the public.

With this call, we invite proposals for sessions that explore the potential of Open Science to allow for more inclusive, transparent and accessible practices of knowledge production and possibly contribute to responsible research and innovation, as well as critical assessments of where Open Science might fall short of these aims.


Digitalization of Society

Digital technologies are a central element of transformations in contemporary societies. Are these recent processes different from how information and communication technology has induced social change in the past decades? Current discourses about a “digital revolution” that encompasses every sphere of social life (“digitalization of work”, “digitalization of business”, “digitalization of education”, digitalization of healthcare”, etc.) suggest that such a digital transformation of society is underway. Empirical observations from quite different social fields support the conclusion that the transformative power of digitalization is still growing. Mobile devices, connectivity, social media platforms, big data and related developments, as well as the new practices and social innovations associated with them, are about to induce substantial changes in many spheres of society. Currently, for example, we can observe how Twitter changes political communication. In the economic sphere a revolution in industrial production and work is heralded (“Industry 4.0”) and new forms of platform economy are emerging. In the scientific domain, digital technologies may change the way in which knowledge is produced, justified, assessed, distributed and implemented in practical contexts. Algorithms promise higher degrees of control and predictive power but may at the same time go along with a loss of transparency and traceability. In everyday life, new social practices like those of the quantified self-movement can be found. Techniques and practices of gamification are emerging in different fields of society. It is important to understand how these socio-technical innovations interact with societal forces in bringing about this transformation and to explore the challenges and opportunities associated with them. In doing so, session proposals should focus on a particular social field, a particular phenomenon of digitization (such as big data or gamification), or a particular opportunity (e.g. democratization) or challenge (e.g. privacy).


Towards Low-Carbon Energy Systems

The analysis of social, technological and organisational frameworks of energy use forms the basis for proposals in this thematic field. They should focus on the shaping of sustainable energy and the mitigation of climate change.

Socio-economic aspects of energy technologies, strategies of environmental technology policy and the development of measures and strategies for the promotion of renewable energy sources and sustainable construction are in the focus as well as the transition to a sustainable energy system. Further important themes are climate-friendly consumption, sustainable lifestyles, regional governance, climate policy strategies, innovation policy, participation and in all fields the role of users.


Mobility: A Socio-Technical System on the Way to Sustainability?

The German term "Mobilitätswende" (mobility transitions) stands for several challenges of the ongoing and much needed fundamental change of our mobility system: decarbonization; changes of mobility behaviour; renaissance of walking, biking, tram, and train; digitalization of mobility and virtual mobility; justice of space; affordability; "Flygskam" — to name a few perspectives of interest.

Researchers are invited to propose sessions dealing with the analysis of social and political aspects of the mobility system and its historical and future development, or of specific aspects of this system.


Gender, Science and Technology

This area of research particularly focuses on a broad understanding of gender, including queer-feminist, post-colonial and ‘crip’ perspectives of science and technology. On the one hand, individual perspectives of actors in the technological field as well as in academia are taken into account; on the other hand, educational, organisational, societal, environmental, policy and governance issues are of utmost relevance.

Areas of special interest for this year’s conference include:

  • Studies and practical experiences about system change policies and practices in academia and research to overcome social injustices and increase gender equality and diversity (e.g. the debate of academic care-work; inclusion of gender criteria in research funding policies; academic ableism).
  • Theoretical discourses of queer-feminist and crip techno-science (e.g. understandings of bodies, regimes of care, and modes of knowledge; utopias and dystopias) are welcome as discussions of empirical experiences.
  • How these broad gender and social justice perspectives can enrich the mutual shaping of design and use approach (especially in the field of medicine technologies, robotics and A.I) and the debate, policies and practices around RRI and ‘good science’.


Life Sciences / Biotechnology

Following decades of public debate, the application of various genetic modification techniques in microbes, plants, animals and even humans continues to be a deeply controversial issue in the EU and beyond, partly fuelled by progress in science, technological innovation, and the opening of novel application areas. Examples include GM industrial and energy crops, synthetic biology, novel breeding techniques including genome editing, gene drives, and biohacking, among others.

Session proposals should call for contributions aiming at a better understanding of the regulatory, broader policy and governance challenges of biotechnology, and/or explore strategies to manage these challenges.


Sustainable Food Systems

There are growing efforts to make the food system more sustainable, and to tackle challenges related to food security, food poverty and justice, nutrition, food quality and safety, resource scarcity, loss of farmland and negative environmental impacts. To tackle these challenges, various strategies are developed at different geographies and scales. They are ranging from local level initiatives, such as communities reasserting responsibility for food policy, to national, supra-national, and global food policies and initiatives.

Proposals for sessions focusing on different forms of sustainable food systems, as well as on related social practices and socioeconomic/technical processes in the production, distribution, marketing, and consumption of food are encouraged. A particular focus lies on governance mechanisms, policies, and their (potential) contribution to a wider transformation towards more sustainable urban and rural areas, regions and societies.